Researching Usability

Recruitment evaluation and screening for personas

Posted on: September 17, 2010

Now that the usability testing has been concluded, it seemed an appropriate time to evaluate our recruitment process and reflect on what we learned. Hopefully this will provide useful pointers to anyone looking to recruit for their own usability study.

Recruiting personas

As stated in the AquabrowserUX project proposal (Objective 3), the personas that were developed would help in recruiting representative users for the usability tests. Having learned some lessons from the persona interview recruitment, I made a few changes to the screener and added a some new questions. The screener questions can be seen below. The main changes included additional digital services consulted when seeking information such as Google|Google Books|Google Scholar|Wikipedia|National Library of Scotland and an open question asking students to describe how they search for information such as books or journals online. The additional options reflected the wider range of services students consult as part of their study. The persona interviews demonstrated that these are not limited to university services. The open question had two purposes; firstly it was able to collect valuable details from students in their own words which helped to identify which persona or personas the participant fitted. Secondly it went some way to revealing how good the participant’s written English was and potentially how talkative they are likely to be in the session. Although this is no substitute for telephone screening, it certainly helped and we found that every participant we recruited was able to talk comfortably during the test. As recruitment was being done by myself and not outsourced to a 3rd person, this seemed the easiest solution at the time.

When recruiting personas the main things I was looking for was the user’s information seeking behaviour and habits. I wanted to know what users typically do when looking for information online and the services they habitually use to help. The questions in the screener were designed to identify these things while also differentiate respondents into one type of (but not always exclusive) persona.

Screener Questions

The user research will be taking place over a number of dates. Please specify all the dates you will be available if selected to take part

26th August |27th August | 13th September | 14th September

What do you do at the university?

Undergraduate 1st |2nd |3rd | 4th | 5th year| Masters/ Post-graduate | PhD

What is your program of study?

What of the following online services do you use when searching for information and roughly how many hours a week do you spend on each?

Classic catalogue | Aquabrowser catalogue | Searcher | E-journals | My Ed | Pub Med | Web of Knowledge/Science | National Library of Scotland | Google Books | Google Scholar | Google | Wikipedia

How many hours a week do you spend using them?

Never|1-3 hours|4-10 hours|More than 10 hours

How much time per week do you spend in any of Edinburgh University libraries?

Never|1-3 hours|4-10 hours|More than 10 hours

Tell me about the way you search for information such as books or journals online?

Things we learned

There were a number of things that we would recommend to do when recruiting participants which I’ve listed below:

  1. Finalise recruitment by telephone, not email. Not surprisingly, I found that it’s better to finalise recruitment by telephone once you have received a completed screener. It is quicker to recruit this way as you can determine a suitable slot and confirm a participant’s attendance within a few minutes rather than waiting days for a confirmation email. It also provides insight into how comfortable the respondent is when speaking to a stranger which will affect the success of your testing.
  2. Screen out anyone with a psychology background. It is something of an accepted norm amongst professional recruitment agencies but something which I forgot to include in the screener. In the end I only recruited one PhD student with a Masters in psychology, so did not prove much of a problem in this study. Often these individuals do not carry out tasks in the way they would normally do, instead examining the task and often trying to beat it. This invariably can provide inaccurate results which aren’t always useful.
  3. Beware of participants who only want to participate to get the incentive. They will often answer the screener questions in a way they think will ensure selection and not honestly. We had one respondent who stated that they used every website listed more than 10 hours a week (the maximum value provided). It immediately raised flags and consequently that person was not recruited.
  4. Be prepared for the odd wrong answer. On occasion, we found out during the session that something the participant said they had used in the past they hadn’t seen before and vice versa. This was particularly tricky because often students aren’t aware of Aquabrowser by name and are therefore unable to accurately describe their use of it.

Useful resources

For more information on recruiting better research participants check out the article by Jim Ross on UX Matters: http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/07/recruiting-better-research-participants.php. There is also a similarly useful article by Abhay Rautela on Cone Trees with tips on conducting your own DIY recruitment for usability testing: http://www.conetrees.com/2009/02/articles/tips-for-effective-diy-participant-recruitment-for-usability-testing/.

Have I missed anything? If there is something I’ve not covered here please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll make sure I respond. Thanks

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